Sector: Local Politics
Mieka Smiles started her career in journalism, writing for several North-East and national papers. But when her children’s school missed out on funding it had been promised, she decided to get involved in local politics – and today she is deputy mayor of Middlesbrough and ward councillor for Nunthorpe.
Where do you call home?
Middlesbrough is my home. I grew up mainly in the Marton area and went to Nunthorpe School. It’s a bit frightening that my own children will be going there in a few years. I have vivid memories of our legendary headteacher Mr Rowling roaming the halls telling us to tuck our shirts in!
Tell us about your role?
I am a ward councillor for Nunthorpe and deputy mayor of Middlesbrough. It’s a role I absolutely love and feel very lucky to have. It’s an honour to be involved in conversations about how we’re going to improve our town and make it a better place to live for everyone.
How did you get to where you are today?
I started in journalism and, again, it was a career I revelled in. My first job in that field was at the Hartlepool Mail as a trainee reporter. I can remember being asked in my interview who Peter Mandelson was and I said, “some Government-y bloke”! After that I worked for many of our regional papers including The Journal, Sunday Sun, The Chronicle and The Gazette. After having my two children, George, 10, and Harriet, eight, I went freelance for a few years and wrote for many national papers, including features for Mail Online.
A couple of years ago my children’s school was going to miss out on funding it had been promised and that’s when I got involved in local politics, working with my MP Simon Clarke to run a petition. He encouraged me to become a councillor. It was a huge step for me as I realised that I couldn’t do both journalism and politics. But the gamble – thankfully – paid off.
What struggles or obstacles did you face along the way?
I think the biggest wobble for me was stepping into PR. I naively thought it would be very similar to journalism but for me, it felt like quite the opposite. I think it’s really important to learn from those experiences, though, and every day I remind myself that I’m lucky to really enjoy what I do.
Describe the moment you first got a feel for success?
Going right back I can remember getting my first front page “splash” (the industry name for a front page) when I was a 21-year-old student studying for my MA. We had the chance to write pieces for the Sunderland Echo and they ran my story on drinks getting spiked on the front. I wandered into WH Smiths and couldn’t believe it! That feeling of seeing your name under a story you’re proud of never really diminishes. From then, there were loads of “pinch myself” moments as a journalist.
In terms of my new direction in life, being elected to represent Nunthorpe was a very proud moment indeed – even if it was by only nine votes.
Do you have any advice for aspiring young females?
Don’t ever let anyone put you off from achieving what you want to. I can remember some guy telling me I’d never be a journalist when I worked in a bar at a golf club as a student. I really hope he’s spotted my byline a few times!
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I love the phrase “this too shall pass” for any trying times, and I also think it’s important to enjoy things when times are good. I’ve also always worried about getting older – and so I would tell my younger self to forget that concern for a while.
What three words inspire you and encourage a positive path?
I don’t really have three words! But if ever I need a bit of encouragement, I write myself a “to do” list. I live my life by them.
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